By Carrie Martin and Harvey Michele

The Montreal Aboriginal HIV/AIDS community event organized by Harvey Michele and Carrie Martin, Holistic Health Coordinator at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM), was held on May 22, 2013 at Centre St. Pierre. The theme was appropriate as HIV/AIDS impacts the individual, their family, and their entire community. Opening remarks were made by Harvey Michele and three candles were lit as a symbolic gesture for those APHAs that have crossed over to the Spirit World; one for the Inuit, one for the Métis and one for the First Nations communities. Each candle holder was hand carved by Rossel Bérard (an Inukshuk, the Infinity symbol and a feather). The one-day event began with an opening prayer by Mohawk Elder Sedalia Fazio and an honour song was sung by Eric Cote of Kentiokwakatste drum group from the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal.

The keynote address was given by Kerrigan Beaver, who travelled from Toronto to speak about life changes. She presented her personal YouTube message about starting antiretroviral treatment and spoke about how this has impacted her family and her health. Marie-Celine Charron from the NWSM spoke about the family dynamics of individuals living with HIV. This was followed by a brief overview presentation by Linda Girard from the Montreal Native Community Development Centre. She outlined the holistic view of urban Aboriginal needs and noted that the new centre will incorporate health, culture and other components of wellbeing.

Anita Schoepp and Anna Aude from the sex trade advocacy group Stella highlighted their collaborations within the Aboriginal community through outreach, advocacy in prisons, and the magazine project that was recently carried out at Maison Tanguay in partnership with Carrie Martin. At Stella, there is an Aboriginal Advisory committee of which Carrie is a member.

Pascale Annoual spoke about the projects and activities she animates as an art therapist at the NWSM and she provided a general overview of arts-based approaches to HIV prevention and awareness. The Aboriginal HIV Prevention and Awareness Dialogue Quilt, created by the residents and employees of the NWSM, was on display at the event in addition to a Tree of Hope where participants were invited to share their personal messages of hope. CAAN’s Tracey Prentice and Amy McGee shared with the audience of over 40 service providers and community members, research initiatives about alcohol use and access to care followed by a YouTube segment with the same title. The presentation explored how APHAs are perceived by service providers as “drunks” and the importance of dismissing this false notion. Their presentation included the results of this initiative from CAAN.

Pamela Shauk from the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM) spoke about how the Inuit community has been impacted by HIV. Pamela has been working at the NFCM for the past 27 years and has vast experience as a hospital liaison, HIV/AIDS outreach, street patrol, and day centre worker. She is considered very knowledgeable in the area of HIV/AIDS and other health priorities affecting the urban Aboriginal population.

The issue of non-disclosure of HIV/AIDS, a contentious legal issue, was discussed by lawyer Camille Alix from COCQ-SIDA. She contextualized the interpretation of the February 2013 Supreme Court of Canada’s decision as it applies to the Aboriginal community.

Different aspects of how HIV/AIDS impacts APHAs, their families and their communities were explored throughout the day and many participants shared their personal experiences. Without those directly or indirectly affected by HIV/AIDS, this community event would not have been as successful as it was. It is through the sharing of a Facebook events and alliances that this affair was able to be successful. Many organizations, family members, friends, individuals, allies, community-based agencies and organizations were approached for their support and some even responded with donations. It is with the knowledge of how HIV/AIDS impacts us all that so many people were willing to respond positively to supporting this initiative. We honour those who gave donations and their time.

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